- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Devout Catholics are dismayed — even angry — that actor Gary Sinise, Fox News journalist Bret Baier and MillerCoors Chairman Pete Coors have withdrawn from an annual Catholic conference, apparently over its inclusion of a gay man who preaches celibacy.

The leaders of the Legatus Summit said Wednesday they will find new “excellent” speakers to replace the missing trio — all Catholics — for its Jan. 29-31 conference in Florida, which includes events and speeches on a range of Catholic subjects.

Summit speaker Paul Darrow, who represents Courage, a Catholic organization founded to offer counsel to people with same-sex attraction, will address the hundreds of Catholic leaders as planned, Legatus Executive Director John J. Hunt said Wednesday.

The last-minute cancellations, which occurred in the wake of protests by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates, have outraged people like Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights.

“I’m angry,” said Mr. Ruse. “To call one of the most prestigious lay Catholic organizations in the country anti-gay is beyond the pale. It’s profoundly offensive to faithful Catholics.”

In a message to Legatus members, Mr. Hunt said the high-profile cancellations “were in reaction” to Mr. Darrow, a former international supermodel.

Mr. Darrow detailed his fast-paced gay lifestyle, the devastation of the AIDS epidemic on the lives of his many friends and lovers and his extraordinary return to the Catholic Church after hearing a nun’s profound words on television in a film made about Courage called “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”

Mr. Darrow is now part of Courage, which encourages gays and lesbians to live a chaste life.

While nothing in Courage’s “mission and pursuits is in any way antagonistic toward the homosexual individual, and [it] only exists to serve the needs of that community,” Mr. Hunt wrote to Legatus members, the LGBT community “considers Courage a threat to the fostering of alternative lifestyles, and anyone in public life is vulnerable to its wrath should they encourage a chaste approach to life.”

Legatus will soon release a public statement on the issue, Mr. Hunt told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

The public controversy started Monday when Mr. Sinise, an actor now best known as an advocate for military veterans and their issues, said in a message on Facebook that he was withdrawing from the Legatus conference.

“I was unaware of the controversy surrounding some of the participants and their views on personal matters” when he agreed to be a speaker, Mr. Sinise wrote.

“I don’t want my mission — which is designed to be unifying — to be disrupted by these or any controversies, and therefore [I] have decided to withdraw,” he said, adding that his religion “has been a catalyst for my mission to honor the men and women who serve in our nation’s military.”

Mr. Baier, Fox News Channel’s chief political correspondent, was also planning to speak at the Legatus Summit about his faith and his son’s congenital heart disease.

But he too decided to withdraw “due to the controversy surrounding some editorial stances” in the Legatus magazine, according to a Fox News Channel spokeswoman.

Mr. Baier “was unaware of these articles or the controversy surrounding them,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr. Coors also withdrew from the event, the Human Rights Campaign said Wednesday. A request for comment from MillerCoors did not get a response, but the Human Rights Campaign said it had “been in touch” with MillerCoors representatives to urge Mr. Coors to back out from the “anti-LGBT event.”

“We’re grateful to Pete Coors for understanding and acknowledging that it would be wrong to align himself and lend his name to an event run by a group that promotes such shameful ideas about LGBT people,” said Fred Sainz, vice president for communications at HRC. One of these shameful views is the promotion of “the dangerous and debunked myth that people can and should undergo attempts to change their sexual orientation,” said Mr. Sainz.

The Rev. Paul Check, executive director of Courage, said in an email to The Washington Times on Wednesday that the people of Courage live up to their names when they speak publicly.

Courage is a spiritual support group for men and women who seek to live a chaste life — a virtue for everyone — in harmony with the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality,” said Father Check.

“Our members find great benefit from a community of like-minded people. Some of them, like Paul from the film ‘Desire of the Everlasting Hills,’ have offered to share their stories publicly, which requires a great deal of courage and humility. We think those stories deserve to be heard for the abundant good they contain,” said Father Check, who served for nine years in the U.S. Marine Corps before entering the seminary.

His statement did not directly address the Legatus conference or the cancellations.

Legatus was founded in 1987, and its members were asked by Pope John Paul II to be “genuine witnesses to Christian ethics” in the field of business.

Its 2015 Summit speakers include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty; and Pam Stenzel, founder of Enlighten Communications, a risk-avoidance and abstinence education program in Minnesota.

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